Saturday, March 20, 2010

Beginners Technique

A few young piano students may have difficulty in finger and hand control, resulting in stiffness. Probably the student stiffens because he feels that what he is trying to do is very difficult and will require a lot of effort and concentration. This very attitude can result in stiffened muscles, and the harder he tries, the stiffer he becomes. It is very important to relax the student and explain that at first you are only going to ask him to do things that are very easy, until his hands and arms 'get into training.' Everything should be made to appear easy and natural No physical action should be beyond the scope of the child's hand.

In my experience I have noticed that big problems arise where students seem to be making a continuous effort to 'push down' the keys. Piano playing requires execution and release and the moment of release is usually the more important. For this reason, I would suggest that most early exercises are played gently without force. Encourage the student to move from one level of tone to another as soon as possible.

Beginners should not practice too long at first, perhaps no more than fifteen or twenty minutes. This is really long enough for eight years and under. Do not begin finger exercises at this stage. On the other hand, any young piano student who enjoys sitting at the piano and picking out little tunes he has heard, or making them up and trying out improvisation, should not be discouraged or corrected, even in the technique is not perfect. I think that in our eagerness to teach all things correctly, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that the piano student wants to play the piano. The assigned work must be carefully done first, but after that a young artist should be free to enjoy his own music in any way he wishes!

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Young Beginners Piano Posture

The student should be seated at the piano at the correct height, so that his arm from elbow to wrist slopes neither up nor down. His arm should be slightly poised. It should support his hand, and not drag it downwards. The hand itself forms a slight uphill slope to the knuckles, curving away to the finger-tips. It is very important not to sit too close, and if the student's feet do not reach the floor, using a footstool is advantageous to stability. Those who can reach the floor should sit slightly forward on the stool, so that a little of the weight of the legs rests upon the feet. Anyone too low for the keyboard can sit on a pillow or raise the bench.

The distance from the piano is tested by the student reaching towards a very high note with the left hand and then toward a low note with the left. We want to encourage free movement over the keyboard from the start and not restrict the beginner to a five note range. With those who can reach the floor make sure they sit well forward on the stool. By using less stool, they are able to swing from side to side and cover the keyboard with ease. Many Intermediate to Advanced students come to me having problems with four-octave arpeggios because they have always sat solidly, as on a chair. A simple change of position works wonders.

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Harmonizing Melodies

As soon as students have learned two chords, I and V7, and have begun to practice pieces for two hands, melody and accompaniment, they can try to adapt harmonies to familiar melodies. Keep the melodies within the compass of the five-finger position.

Students can be led to listen to the agreement of melody and chord, and to change the harmony at the proper place in the melody according to the musical effect rather than because of the teacher's directions. This elementary study in the feeling for the proper relation of harmony and melody is important and is actually a fundamental lesson in harmonic ear training.

After harmonizing a simple melody, the student can write the chords in blank staves.

A little study will also show students that by changing the third tone of a five-finger group they can alter the effect from major to minor and vice versa.

If you need to find a piano teacher NJ, please contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Scale Playing

A thorough knowledge of scales in all keys is a fundamental necessity for the pianist. Scale practice, indeed, must be continued constantly throughout the career of the greatest artists. Scale study offers excellent ear training as a student must hear the scale pattern in order to play songs in various keys. Scale study is fundamental in transposition. It also provides drill in step and half-step relationships in scale patterns. Early songs that give five-finger and triad positions in each hand for every key are invaluable in scale playing. They are an excellent early step in the study of keyboard harmony.

The foundation for scale playing is laid in the early songs where through transpositions the first five tones of all the scales are learned, leaving only the addition of three tones to complete the ascending scales. In accordance with the pedagogy of the first year, the ascending scale occurs in various songs furnishing the fingering which is used in all ascending scales. The descending scale also is included with first year fingering.

The scale is the basis of melody, and this practice trains the ear to appreciate melodic relationships. With motivated students, the scale can be taught immediately from the beginning lesson, including the thumb-under position of the full eight-note scale. This introduces students immediately to fingering of the keyboard. Once the full scale is mastered, the students can proceed to full keyboard scales.

Scales are the beginning of finger exercises, as well. Scale drills, however, should not be forced upon young students or they may rebel. They will want to learn songs right away. After all, isn't this why they wanted to learn piano in the first place?

For more information about piano lessons NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chord Study

Early lessons with the Tonic Chord lead young students to discover that it consists merely of the first, third and fifth tones of the familiar five finger position. As soon as this is apparent the tonic chord will be played easily by either hand in any key that the student learns, both in the keys given in the book and in their transposition.

It should be noted that (with the exception of the first presentation of I) the chords are played first divided between the two hands either as the lower part of a four-hand duet or as an accompaniment to singing. This process is similar to that in which the melodies with a compass of more than five tones are played with two hands before undertaking the difficulties of expansion and finger crossings. By playing the chords with two hands any tendency towards awkwardness and stiffness of the fingers is avoided and a relaxed condition of arm and hand is maintained.

Chord playing and the playing of chord progressions will be learned far more readily if the student concentrates on this one problem for a few lessons. Where it is necessary to divide the attention between melody in one hand and chords in the other the difficulties are far greater than when melody and chords are treated as separate problems. After two hand experience has clarified the chord progressions and made them familiar to the student, the next forward step of playing melody in one hand and chords in the other will be much simpler and less likely to be accompanied by muscular tension.

The chords are first taught by imitation, the teacher playing on the keyboard followed by the student. All keys are fingered alike, and are therefore equally simple according to the presentation process. Of course no analytical description or discussion of these harmonies is appropriate to this stage of progress. The student hears the effects and is shown how to produce them. Thereafter he expresses his harmonic feeling through the appropriate use of these chords in the selections in his piano books and in harmonizing assigned familiar melodies. The teacher should be careful in suggesting for harmonization only such melodies as may be accompanied by this very limited harmonic vocabulary.

The student is naturally eager to play pieces in which one hand has a melody and the other hand plays accompanying chords. Such pieces seem to a young student to be musically advanced and highly interesting, and his desire to play them should not be suppressed. The teacher, though, should try to postpone the more difficult step until the chords and chord progressions are made familiar through demonstrated playing. The best way to do this is to stimulate the interest in two-hand chord playing. This can be done in a few ways:

1. By having the student play accompaniments for the singing at home
2. By the student accompanying his own singing at home
3. By transpositions of the chord progressions into as many keys as possible
4. By inventing a variety of chord figurations

These varied experiences are interesting to the student, and will give him considerable drill in two-hand chord playing as a preparation for the more difficult steps which follow.

For more information about piano instruction NJ, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Every piece of music should mean tones to the student, not merely keyboard fingering adjustments. Transposition should be based on this principle. The early stages of transposition consist merely in finding the five finger positions in various keys and then playing the transposed melody with the same fingering as in the original key. Ear and muscular memory aid with this process.

At first the transpositions should be to keys made familiar by the pieces the students have previously studied, but very soon students will enjoy exploring the keyboard to find other possible transpositions. For the first of these new keys the piano teacher could show the five finger position. She may then play the phrase in several other keys, calling attention to the similarity of tonal effect. The student is then encouraged to find the five finger positions and play the phrase in other keys. The new five finger positions should be discovered chiefly by ear. Let the step and half-step relationship come as a result of these ear training explorations rather than as preliminary directions. Occasionally a student must be guided by such directions, but only when the teacher observes that he is becoming impatient or discouraged.

The contrast between major and minor five finger positions provides a definite place for clarifying the step and half-step relationships on the keyboard.

Melodies involving the entire scale are naturally more difficult to transpose than the five finger melodies. Even so, let the ear be the chief guide, and reserve mechanical directions as a last resort. In these melodies, it is most helpful for the student to play the scale of the key into which he intends to transpose the selection.

For more information about learning transposition, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studio.

Monday, March 1, 2010


Physical Expression of Rhythm. Rhythm is fundamentally a muscular rather than an auditory experience, and should be taught as this. Our natural impulse to a march or strong downbeats is to keep time in our bodies. In training the student in rhythm it is important to develop the physical awareness and response to the beat. The simplest form of this drill is to tap the hand or the foot synonymous with time keeping. Note that much music in 4/4 measure has the feeling of two beats to the measure, as has much music in 6/8 time.

Clapping. From the first lesson the students should clap the music. The hands are clapped for each note and held together during the value of the note. For a long note the hands are held lightly together with a slight swing at the moment of each beat. Between the notes the hands must be separated briefly to prepare to clap again. For a rest, the hands should be separated with a definite motion, the opposite of the clapping motion. For notes, hands move towards each other; for rests, away from each other.

Clapping the music is an excellent device for clarifying the meaning of the notes with respect to time. Students readily distinguish between quicker and slower motions of hands, and apply this analysis to the notation of their music.

Phrase Rhythm. The relationship of the phrase rhythm and the beat is too often taught in reverse order, on the assumption that the beat will eventually develop a feeling for the phrase. Rather, the reverse is true. In fact, a degree of relaxation between the phrases is desirable, even sometimes with a slight interruption of strict time. Every phrase should be played as a unit, just as it should be sung to one breath. Understanding keyboard phrasing is also fundamental to sight reading.

Counting Time. Counting time really presupposes an understanding of rhythmic experience. Otherwise it is mechanical and loses its musical significance. In the earliest years, occasionally the piano teacher may count time, especially in connection with a discussion of time values and signatures. But students should be introduced to counting and rhythm shortly thereafter and introduced to listening to music to actually hear the beat in music that they may duplicate the experience in playing pieces. Counting and rhythm are not the same thing. Rhythm has much more to do with groupings of notes and accents. Counting has to do with actualizing the time signature per measure.

For more information about learning tempo in classical music, contact Barbara Ehrlich Piano Studios.